This year marks the 75th anniversary of Cornhuskin’, one of Meredith’s most iconic traditions, but the main festivities have been postponed until the spring due to COVID-19. In addition to students advocating that Cornhuskin’ be postponed, students have also been paying more attention to the tradition’s racist past and questioning what will become of Cornhuskin’ in the future.
On Sept. 18, the Office of Student Leadership and Service (SLS) hosted a Cornhuskin’ 101 meeting. According to this year’s Meredith Recreation Association (MRA) Cornhuskin’ Co-chairs Jeanine Carryl, ‘22, and Consepcion Cruz-Valencia, ‘23, this meeting is designed for freshmen students to learn more about the events that normally take place during Cornhuskin’ week. Vivian Porch, ‘21, attended this meeting hoping to discuss Cornhuskin’s “racist and divisive history” but was disappointed by vague comments made by former SLS staff member Sarah Borum.
Porch says that while it was great to hear “necessary and valid points of change being made towards unity and proper diversity” from Carryl and Cruz-Valencia, she did not appreciate the dismissiveness with which Sarah Borum addressed these topics. Porch, who is not a BIPOC student, made a submission to the @DearMereCo Instagram account regarding Borum’s statements during this meeting. While @DearMereCo did not immediately publish her submission, they eventually did on Oct. 13, but later deleted it. Porch explains, “I only submitted because Sarah Borum clearly stated that SLS did not read @DearMereco very often, and I knew I would submit...just to show [how necessary] it is to...listen to student voices.” However, Porch does see how her submission “comes across as performative and seeking recognition,” and she respects @DearMereCo for deleting her post as she has “made a mistake in the execution of [her] actions.”
After receiving messages from several students concerning Porch’s intentions with her post, @DearMereCo deleted her submission and posted an announcement stating that the account “will no longer allow submissions from white students.” Carryl and Cruz-Valencia are also disappointed that Porch “thought it would be appropriate to post on that platform” and that the owner of @DearMereCo allowed a white student to post when the account “is not for white students.” Carryl and Cruz-Valencia agree with Porch’s submission being deleted especially because “it didn’t tell the entirety of the conversation and the facts of the story were skewed.” Aminah Jenkins, ‘23, is a Cornhuskin’ Co-chair for her class, and she also wishes information was more “widely available so that people didn’t have to rely on it being conveyed from people with potentially conflicting intentions.”
Cheryl Jenkins, Director of SLS, agrees that SLS needs to “do better to communicate what we have been discussing and working on” so that students are aware. She reported that although she and other SLS staff read posts on @DearMereCo this past summer, it became more difficult to keep up with the account as the fall semester approached. She says that Borum’s departure created “layers of new work that [she] had not anticipated” in addition to planning events around safety protocols and launching the Student Organization Guidelines for COVID-19. Cheryl Jenkins hopes that her gap in reading posts does not make students feel uncared for as she “truly want[s] Cornhuskin’ and other traditions to be welcoming to all of our students, and [she]...[is] willing to do the hard work to make it happen.”
Last week, Meredith’s student body received a message from Carryl and Cruz-Valencia stating that they are using this time “to review the values that [they] want to see during this tradition.” This message also included a link to a feedback form where students can make their concerns and suggestions about Cornhuskin’ known. Cheryl Jenkins says that SLS is “thankful for the feedback” from students because “we know that we can improve Cornhuskin’,” and she encourages students to utilize this form and discuss concerns directly with SLS staff. SLS plans to host a forum this spring to continue talking about Cornhuskin’ and getting feedback from students. SLS is also encouraging students to join the Cornhuskin’ History Committee that will “research the history of Cornhuskin’ to bring about tangible change on campus for inclusivity,” according to Carryl and Cruz-Valencia. Students can express interest in being part of this committee in the same feedback form.
The Cornhuskin’ manual for this year is still undergoing edits, but SLS has identified some key goals for Race Relations and Inclusivity. According to Cheryl Jenkins, these goals include “1. Acknowledge the past and learn from the past; 2. Implement training for officers and students more broadly; 3. Look at the language used for traditions; 4. For traditions, consider the following: What are the learning outcomes for events? What are the stories/values of the events?; 5. Consider how our efforts fit into the overall action plan for the College.” Carryl and Cruz-Valencia “hope that [they] can make a positive impact...and draw on [their] own individual experiences and strengths” this year when reviewing Cornhuskin’ material alongside the entire MRA Cornhuskin' Board.
Aminah Jenkins and her Cornhuskin’ Co-chair Rachael Kiley sent an email to their class regarding equity and inclusion in Cornhuskin’. Both Jenkins and Kiley plan on being involved with the Cornhuskin’ History Committee “to educate [them]selves in ways that will allow [them] to better understand the communities [they] represent” in addition to “advocating for rules that explicitly state how matters of discrimination at Cornhuskin’ practices and events are reported, investigated and disciplined.”
The Cornhuskin’ Co-chairs for the Class of 2021, Megan Gale and Neali Helms, have also spent recent months researching Cornhuskin’s history and trying to figure out what they can do to make Cornhuskin’ more inclusive for all students. Gale and Helms have strived “to make an environment where everyone in [their] class feels welcome and can have a great experience” since being elected as the Cornhuskin’ Co-chairs for their class during their sophomore year. They hope “to create more inclusive practices and practice times for commuter students, WINGS students and any other students'' who may have experienced issues with Cornhuskin’ practices in the past. Both Gale and Helms feel that they are advocates for their class because they “do not have all the skills needed to create the Cornhuskin’...[their] class envision[s].” They say that they always open their team to any member of the Class of 2021 who expresses interest.
The Herald reached out to the Cornhuskin’ Co-chairs from the Classes of 2024 and 2022 but received no comment.
By Molly Perry, Staff Writer